Knowing God

by Steven Chan

In his epistle to the saints in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote that man ought to “know God” so that they will “glorify” Him and be “thankful” to Him (Rom 1:18-27) but he also noted that many refused to “retain God in their knowledge” (Rom 1:28). As a consequence, these men “do things which are not fitting” (Rom 1:29-32).

It is important to have an accurate understanding of God and not have a lop-sided perspective of our God.

The danger with a lop-sided or one-sided view of God is that we run the risk of failing to do the things that will please Him.  In Rom 2:4, the apostle Paul wrote thus: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” In that passage Paul emphasized that it is the “goodness, forbearance and longsuffering of God” that “leads us to repentance”. Likewise, passages like John 3:16 and Rom 5:8 revealed to us that it is due to the love of God that we have the gift of salvation.

Unfortunately, some prefer to focus almost exclusively on the “goodness of God” in preaching the Word. This emphasis on only one attribute of God has resulted in some today contending that a “good God” will not send or punish His people with the fires of hell throughout all eternity in spite of Scriptures like 2 Thess 1:7-9 which states:

“..when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe…”

In the same epistle to the saints in Rome, Paul wrote thus:

“Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”

The Bible shows us another attribute of God: that He is a just God (Rom 3:26). He is a “consuming fire” to those who refused to obey Him (Heb 12:29; 10:27-31). To those who refused to obey God, they would be “cut off” – and that highlights the “severity” of God. When we know our God in this manner, then we will not count the “longsuffering of God” as “slackness” (2 Pet 3:9). That’s why the gospel needs to be preached: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…” (2 Cor 5:10-11)

When we know all that our God expects of us then we will be careful to do all the things that will please Him –  and that should be our aim (2 Cor 5:9) – to conduct ourselves such that we will be acceptable to Him.

There is the ever present danger of the tendency to emphasize certain aspects of God and neglecting the observance of other matters required by God. This was the case with the scribes and the Pharisees, as pointed out by Jesus Christ in Matt 23:23:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

They were guilty of placing a lot of emphases on tiny details and aspects of the requirements of God while committing much greater sins. Note that Jesus did not fault them for being careful on the details; rather it was their “over-focusing” on the minor aspects while “neglecting the more obvious and weightier commands of God”.

We must be careful that we do not commit similar errors today as we seek to do the things that will please God.

Some warnings against having an inaccurate understanding of God’s requirements are as follow:-

  1. 1 Sam 15:22: “Has the Lordas greatdelight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” It is not good enough that we are sincere and we sacrifice a lot for God. We need to give Him what he expects of us; not just anything we prefer to give to Him. Obedience to His commands is a non-negotiable.
  1. Rom 10:1-2: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge…” (Hos 4:6). Being very fervent is good but not sufficient if it is not a fervency done in accordance with the knowledge of what God has revealed to us in the Scriptures.
  1. James 1:26-27: “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion isuseless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, andto keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

Self-control in our speech and how we say things and what we say are all important evidences of our religion or of what is really within our hearts. Jesus said in Matt 12:33-37: “for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

  1. 1 John 3:18: “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” Titus 2:11-14: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself Hisown special people, zealous for good works.” Matt 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Good works should accompany those who are followers of Christ (Eph 2:8-10).
  1. John 14:15: If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” and His commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:3). Some contend that there is no law today because we walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:18, 23). In reality in Gal 5:18, Paul was referring to the law of Moses or the old law, and in Gal 5:23, Paul meant that there is no law as regards the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law”. He cannot possibly mean that there is no law whatsoever governing the Christian today as he subsequently wrote of the law of Christ in Gal 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” He also referred to the law of faith (Rom 3:27).
  1. Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O man, what isgood; and what does the Lordrequire of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Of course, Jesus requires us to “believe in Him, repent of our sins, confessed Him as Lord and to be baptized for the forgiveness of our sins” (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Matt 10:32; Rom 10:9-10) and then to be faithful to Him unto death (Rev 2:10). Baptism gets us into Christ. Thereafter we have to live the new life; the transformed life of a new creature created after the image of Christ (2 Cor 5:17; Rom 6:1-7; 8:1-6; 12:1-2; Col 3:10).  The life aimed at pleasing God must necessarily go beyond the “elementary principles of Christ such as repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” (Heb 6:1-2) and grow towards spiritual maturity as characterized by the “trained ability to discern between good and evil” and to conduct our lives such that it would bring glory to Him (Heb 5:14; 3 John 1:11).

Do we “do justly” (i.e. conduct our business in a just, fair and honest manner)? Do we “show mercy” towards those in need, and towards those who may have offended us or have failed us or have fallen into sin? Do we “walk humbly” in all that we do – whether while working in our secular profession, in our speech, in our attitude and action towards others? The requirement of humility is exemplified by Jesus as stated by Paul in Phil 2:3-9.

The sad thing is that oftentimes we are like “a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was…”(James 1:23-24). It is tragically easy for one to fail to recognize one’s own weaknesses. It is easy to see the failure of others who failed to “act justly”, failed to “show mercy” and failed to “walk humbly”; but are we blind to our own conduct?

Let us look at the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25), see where we failed to measure up, and then with His grace be determined to conduct our lives in conformity with His requirements; lest we fall short – “if indeed we have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (1 Pet 2:3). How well do we know God? Jesus came to declare Him to us (John 1:18) If anyone has seen Jesus, then he has seen the Father (John 14:9). Let us walk in the steps of our Lord (1 Pet 2:21) and thereby bring glory to our heavenly Father. Let us endeavor to know our God as we study His Word.